This year marks the launch of a new third division professional soccer league in the United States — USL League One. The league will start with 10 teams during the 2019 season before expanding to 12 in 2020. With the season getting closer, let’s take a look at the current teams in the league and where they come from.
The construction of the league includes teams from a variety of places. While there are some new teams, others either made the jump from the USL League Two, formerly the USL Premier Development League, or down from the USL Championship, formerly the USL and USL Pro. The group has made an interesting combination that will feature old rivalries and brand new clubs.
The USL League Two is a developmental league, primarily made up of current college players. A semi-professional league, it allows many of college soccer’s talent to play during the summer without losing their college eligibility. It was expected that there would be some teams that would like to make the jump from the semi-professional league to the new fully professional USL League One, and that’s exactly what’s happened.
This season sees the jump from the first two clubs from the fourth division — FC Tucson and South Georgia Tormenta FC. Relatively new clubs, both FC Tucson and South Georgia Tormenta come into 2019 from two different standpoints. Both clubs had great success in the fourth division but have since differed. While Tormenta FC has remained an independent club, FC Tucson was purchased by Phoenix Rising FC in 2017, making it their second team. As the Rising make their pitch for MLS expansion, it is the only professional team owned by a second division club in American soccer.
While two teams have come up, three teams have dropped down from the USL Championship. The Richmond Kickers are one of America’s most historic soccer clubs, being founded in 1993. They’ve survived structural changes to the American soccer pyramid and have been a successful story in leagues that have failed. While a bit of a surprise that they decided to drop down a tier, it will be a chance for an Orlando City team to face one of the club’s former rivals.
The other two teams dropping down are Toronto FC II and Orlando City B, both second teams of MLS clubs. Toronto FC II played in the USL last season while OCB took the year off in preparation for the new third division league. As expected, these two teams will largely be made up of academy players, providing a link between the development academies and the first team.
The other five teams in the league are new teams. Similar to OCB and Toronto FC II, North Texas SC is FC Dallas’ second team and will serve the same purpose as those two squads. The other four teams include Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, Forward Madison SC, Greenville Triumph SC, and Lansing Ignite FC. Each of these teams will be entering their first year of existence in this new league.
While there are only 10 teams that will take part in the 2019 season, there are already two teams signed up to join in 2020, both existing clubs. Penn FC and the Rochester Rhinos have announced that they will take the 2019 season off before joining the new league in 2020. Like the Kickers, the Rhinos are one of the oldest professional American soccer clubs, having been founded in 1996. Their U.S. Open Cup title in 1999 is still the only time a lower-league club has won the historic tournament since the entrance of MLS teams in 1996.
Penn FC may be a relatively new name but is a well-known club. The club was originally called the Harrisburg City Islanders. Founded in 2003, the team now known as Penn FC played alongside the Kickers, Rhinos, and Lions in USL Pro before deciding to go on hiatus for a year and join the new third division in 2020.
Similar to the USL Championship, you can expect the USL League One to continue expanding beyond its first season. It’s expected that this will include teams dropping down from the USL Championship and teams moving up from USL League Two. Currently the league is primarily made up of teams in the east and midwest, leaving FC Tucson all alone in the western part of the country. You can expect the league to look to expand in that direction in the future to make travel easier for the western-most club.
The growth of American soccer over the past few years has resulted in the launch of a new third division league, USL League One. The league will feature a variety of teams from other divisions and new clubs making their start. It’s an exciting time for American soccer and it will be fun to see how this league develops over time.